Analysis: No justification for Diarmuid Connolly’s sideline reaction and it could result in a lengthy ban
Another weekend, another disciplinary storm surrounding Diarmuid Connolly.
If he was unlucky to pick up a black card against Monaghan in the last round of the league, his second game back after last year's All-Ireland when the focus of his ongoing duel with Mayo's Lee Keegan was so strong, there was no misfortune in his decision to yank back Kerry's Gavin Crowley in the league final the following weekend. It was as needless as could be.
"Frustration on my part rather than anything else really. You look at them, you learn and move on," said Connolly (right) a couple of weeks later.
Clearly, the lesson hasn't hit home yet if Saturday night is anything to go by.
His reaction to Ciarán Branagan's decision to award a sideline to Carlow in the early stages of the second half was to lay his hand on the Down man's chest with sufficient force to nudge him back just a fraction and then angrily jab his finger at him.
It puts him in the line of fire of a Category V offence of the GAA's Rule 7.2 that covers threatening conduct towards an official, an offence that bears a three-month suspension.
It's hard to avoid the conclusion that, in this case, "minor physical interference," clearly defined in rule, has taken place.
Minor physical interference is categorised as 'laying a hand on, pushing, pulling or jostling' an official and looks like it will, pending an appeal, rule out Tipperary goalkeeper Evan Comerford for most of the championship.
The degree of force is irrelevant. Once there is contact, such as 'laying a hand on,' an offence has been committed under the terms of this rule and the argument that 'there wasn't much in it' shouldn't come into it.
Of course, the player is entitled to due process.
And in his favour will be the failure of the match officials to take any action at the time.
Referee Sean Hurson may not have seen it with any great clarity but Branagan was the recipient and chose not to draw attention to it, perhaps in the knowledge that Connolly was fired up after three Carlow players confronted him to strip him of the ball and get on with the sideline.
On that basis the possibility that this incident may already be deemed to have been dealt with is there.
But the Central Competition Controls Committee are more likely to take a different view. The unedifying spectacle of one of the most talented players in the game confronting an official in such an aggressive manner and making contact, however slight, has no justification.
The protection of referees and officials has been paramount with this committee. Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney was sitting in the stands for yesterday's Ulster Championship match in Newry after he picked up a suspension under this rule for allegedly using threatening language towards linesman Joe McQuillan in a league match, a charge McGeeney challenged.
Connolly has long run the gauntlet of abuse from opponents who know that winding him up and giving him close and uncomfortable attention will draw a reaction quicker than it would with most of his contemporaries.
"We were hoping to try and entice him. Sure that's what most teams do," mused Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin after last year's Leinster final when his wing-back James Dolan tousled Connolly's hair as he ran by him, prompting Connolly to get him into a headlock.
On Saturday night, Carlow manager Turlough O'Brien offered a defence.
"Diarmuid Connolly is getting a lot of targeting too and he finds it hard on the pitch. You'd like to see him playing the game."
But frustration or targeting has no basis in his reaction to a simple decision to award a sideline the other way.
It had been a frustrating evening for Connolly up to that point any way and so far this season has been a forgettable one for him with Chrissy McKaigue over-running him for four points in an All-Ireland club semi-final in April before his abbreviated return to league action.
For Dublin, though, it has to be a real concern that Connolly's discipline is back in focus so quickly after his back-to-back black cards in April.
Jim Gavin has done a good job in channelling the best out of the St Vincent's man but, even if he does avoid sanction, involvement with an official in this manner won't sit easily with the manager.